Wednesday, 06 September 2017 18:46

Iran's Azerbaijan Question in Evolution: Identity, Society and Regional Security



Iran’s Azerbaijan Question in Evolution: Identity, Society, and Regional Security


Emil Aslan Souleimanov and Josef Kraus

Click for full text.

Executive Summary

1708AzerisIranian Azerbaijanis have historically been considered the country’s most loyal ethno-linguistic minority. Predominantly Shiite, with religion being the most important source of collective identity, Turkophone Azerbaijanis had until the 1920s provided numerous dynasties to the Persian thrones. From Seljuks to Qajars, they stayed at the avant-garde of the Persian empires and shielded them from the major Sunni rival, the Ottoman Empire.

The rise of nationalism in the 20th century gradually breached the image of Iranian Azerbaijanis as a perfectly loyal community. For a tiny group of Iran-born Azerbaijani intellectuals in the first decades of the last century, the (re)discovery of ethno-linguistic identity, distinct from Persian, upgraded the populations of the Caucasus and Anatolia to the status of brethren. This raised concerns in Tehran over the fate of the strategic northwest should Iran’s largest ethno-linguistic community seek separation from the rest of the country. These fears were heightened when in 1945, Iran’s Azerbaijani provinces were established by the Moscow-led People’s Republic of Azerbaijan. Lacking popular support, the Communist-inspired puppet republic failed to survive the Soviet withdrawal and disintegrated well before the influx of the Iranian military.

A mere year of intermezzo of Iranian Azerbaijan’s de facto statehood still led the Iranian monarchy to adapt increased efforts to ensure the country’s northwest remained part of Iran. Assimilatory policies intensified in the post-World War II decades. These were aimed both at the potentially disloyal members of ethnic communities but particularly at Azerbaijanis. Masses of Iranian Azerbaijanis assimilated into the Persian mainstream. This was due to internal immigration of millions of Azerbaijanis to Tehran and the country’s other industrial areas, the lack of education in their native tongue, and certain stigmatization stemming from being a Turkophone Azerbaijani in Iran.

The Islamic Revolution of 1979 initially brought about attenuation of state-imposed Persian nationalism. This was eventually replaced by the shared religion, Shiite Islam, as the ideological foundation of the emerging Republic. Yet, the situation gradually shifted during the 1980s and 1990s and Persian nationalism and assimilation policies returned to the forefront of state policies.

Nevertheless, the situation in Iran’s Azerbaijani provinces had already begun to change dramatically since the early 1990s. This was largely driven by developments outside Iran. The dissolution of the Soviet Union led to the establishment of an independent Azerbaijan to the north of the Araxes River- a source of immense concern for Iranian authorities, particularly in the light of the mounting Armenian-Azerbaijani war over Nagorno-Karabakh. This war threatened to jeopardize the Islamic Republic’s security by spilling over to Iran’s Azerbaijani-majority provinces. The war also served as a source of inspiration for masses of Iranian Azerbaijanis eager to rediscover their “northern brethren” following decades of mutual isolation. In a similar vein, the economic and political rise of Turkey led many Iranian Azerbaijanis to rediscover their ethno-linguistic and cultural roots and reconsider their Turkic heritage as a source of pride. As a result, roughly over the last 25 years, many Iranian Azerbaijanis have become more proud of their unique cultural heritage.

There is also an important international dimension of Iranian Azerbaijan’s ongoing transformation. There are two states – Azerbaijan and Turkey – with their dominant population ethnolinguistically and to an extent also culturally very close to Azerbaijanis. Since the establishment of independent Azerbaijan in 1991, many Iranian Azerbaijanis, particularly those of secular and nationalist mindsets, have both enthusiastic and romanticized attitudes toward very statehood of the Republic of Azerbaijan. On the other hand, the division in the first half of the 19th Century of Azerbaijani-majority territories into the Russian-dominated north and the Persian-dominated South brought about the formation of cultures that are, in many respects, antagonistic. While secularization, Russification, and strong ethnic nationalism have shaped Caucasian Azerbaijan, strong religious identity, social conservatism, and cultural Persification have been dominant in the midst of Iranian Azerbaijanis. Emphatic cultural dissimilarities between the Northern and Southern Azerbaijanis are something Azerbaijanis on both sides of the Araxes River, even those in favor of unification have become gradually cognizant of.

Since the 1990s, the following processes have been crystallized among Iran’s Azerbaijanis:


  • A small, yet vocal minority of Iranian Azerbaijanis has emerged advocating for ethno-linguistic and cultural rights, such as education in their native Turkic tongue, formally allowed by the Iranian Constitution, but de facto Most of these Iran-based political activists fall short of challenging the territorial integrity of Iran. They have struggled for the acknowledgement of Iranian Azerbaijanis’ distinct ethno-linguistic identity within the borders of Iran. The extent of popular support for these groups is hardly calculable. Public manifestations, particularly those regarding politically sensitive topics, are not allowed in Iran and dissidents face harsh persecution. Those in support for Iranian Azerbaijanis’ cultural emancipation – or even for autonomy – appear to prevail in the region’s main cities, predominately within university-educated secular youth.
  • A number of recent events, for instance, the 2006 Cartoon Crisis and the 2011 Urmiye Protests, have motivated even politically apathetic Iranian Azerbaijanis to protest. The protests have concerned what they consider state-tolerated discrimination of Azerbaijanis, a disrespectful attitude toward their heritage, as well as environmental issues.
  • Since the early 2000s, a tiny, but visible group of secular (ultra-nationalists has emerged in Iranian Azerbaijan. This group has been concentrated in major cities, particularly in Tabriz, Urmiye and Ardabil. Often associated with the Tabriz soccer club Tractor Sazi fan club, members of this group have on various occasions questioned Southern Azerbaijan’s status within Iran, displaying determination to secede from the Islamic Republic and join the Azerbaijani Republic and/or Turkey.
  • Similar explicitly Pan-Turkic and anti-Persian views have been propagated by various Iranian Azerbaijani diaspora groups. These organizations reside outside Iran in Western Europe and North America, and, to a lesser extent in the Azerbaijani Republic. The latter generally seeks to distance itself from expressing formal support to Iranian Azerbaijanis’ struggle and also from the anti-Iranian rhetoric from some of their representatives based abroad. The influence of these groups in the midst of diaspora-based Iranian Azerbaijanis remains unclear as does their impact on the developments within Iran.
  • The official position of Iranian authorities contends that Iranian Azerbaijani activists, both seeking secession and struggling to acquire ethno-linguistic rights within Iran’s borders, are orchestrated by Iran’s outside enemies for the sake of sowing the seed of public unrest to disintegrate the multi-ethnic republic. Yet, no available evidence points to the U.S.A, Turkey, Israel, and Azerbaijan being the masterminds of public protests in Iran’s Azerbaijani provinces, or having cultivated in Iran’s northwest spy networks, although there is some fractured evidence to imply that individual policy-makers in the U.S.A in the early 2000s may have had initial interest in assessing the potential of Azerbaijani separatism in Iran.
  • Notwithstanding, due to these recent developments, many Iranian Azerbaijanis, particularly socially conservative populations residing in rural areas, appear to self-identify as Shiite Muslims first, Iranians second, and Azerbaijanis third. For them, loyalty to the Iranian Shiite state trumps their ethno-linguistic roots and regional identity. Any form of public activism for the sake of obtaining cultural rights, not least secession from the Islamic Republic, is condemned as being inspired by outside powers (Turkey, Israel, U.S.A) in order to imperil the sacred unity of their Iranian fatherland.
  • The ongoing civil war in Syria has deepened existing divisions within the Iranian Azerbaijani population. While urban youths have expressed sympathies towards Turkey and the West and blamed the Assad regime and its Russian and Iranian allies for deliberately targeting innocent civilians, rural Iranian Azerbaijanis have shown full support for Iran’s (and Russia’s) actions in Syria. Indeed, rural Iranian Azerbaijanis have praised efforts to rescue fellow Shiites – and expand Iran’s influence in a strategically important country.
  • The emergence of an independent Azerbaijan in 1991 shaped Iran’s South Caucasian policy for the years to come. Concerned with the negative impact of the Azerbaijani Republic on its own Azerbaijani minority, Tehran in the early 1990s was quick to align itself with Russia to prevent ambitious regional energy projects from realization as they could link up Azerbaijan to international oil and natural gas markets.
  • The long-term trend of Iranian youth disassociating themselves from the theocratic regime and its ideology while enduring it outwardly has led to the return of nationalism within the identity of ethnic Persian. Along with this nationalism is anti-Arabic and anti-Turkic overtones. This trend has been running against a similar trend in the midst of young Iranian Azerbaijanis’ rediscovered interest in their Turkic heritage. In the years to come, the weakened appeal of shared Shiite religion and increasing disassociation from the theocratic regime may deepen conflict between both Persian nationalists and Azerbaijani Turkic nationalists. This development could pave the way for ethnically-motivated upheavals in a country that has so far affected the fate of neighboring multi-ethnic States.


Iran’s relationship with Turkey, U.S.A, Israel, and Russia have to an extent impacted Iran’s Azerbaijani community – or discussion of its role in Iran’s relationship with its allies, partners, and foes:


  • In the last two decades, many Iranian Azerbaijanis have deemed Turkish identity to be increasingly prestigious. This is due to Turkey’s connotation of a more liberal, modern, militarily powerful, and advanced country. The reception of Turkish (and Azerbaijani) satellite television, formally banned in Iran, has played a significant role in advancing Iranian Azerbaijanis’ ethno-linguistic and cultural emancipation. While increasingly rigorous Turkic identity – and pro-Turkish sentiments – in the midst of Iran’s (urban-based) Azerbaijani community have since the 1990s been a matter of jealousy for Persian-speakers, Iranian authorities appear to have cultivated a sense of Turkey’s covert involvement in Iranian Azerbaijanis’ affairs. Therefore, explicitly demonstrated pro-Turkish slogans, such as waving Turkish flags and shouting pro-Turkish mottos by Tractor Sazi fans, have been interpreted by Iranian authorities as being orchestrated by Turkey through the network of its agents in Iran’s northwest. The Syrian Civil War has brought additional tension to Turkish-Iranian relations. While there is a lack of evidence regarding the involvement of Turkish intelligence in stirring up protests among Iran’s Azerbaijanis, its presence in Iran’s northwest cannot be ruled out. Conflicting Turkish and Iranian interests and their increasing regional rivalry may motivate Turkey to take a greater interest in weakening the Islamic Republic from within.
  • Washington’s troublesome relationship with Tehran has been associated with its efforts to weaken the Islamic Republic both externally and internally. The existence in Iran of a discontented Azerbaijani minority may play well to Washington’s hand. This could explain efforts by some American politicians in the early 2000s to investigate the potential for Iranian Azerbaijanis’ separatism and irredentism. Yet so far, there is no evidence of direct American interference. The U.S. lacks the capacity to instigate an anti-Tehran rebellion in Iranian Azerbaijan. Yet, due to the current trend of strengthening Azerbaijani Turkic nationalism in Iran, the situation may change in the medium-term.
  • From the early 1990s and onwards, Russia and Iran have shared many common interests both in the South Caucasus and the Caspian Sea area. Both Tehran and Moscow have desired a weak Azerbaijan, preferably without Western orientation and isolated from important East-West energy projects. Upheavals in the midst of Iran’s Azerbaijani community, as well as any internal troubles that would weaken the Islamic Republic, are thus not in Moscow’s interest. Moscow seeks to have Iran as a strong regional and global partner.
  • The worsening of Turkish-Israeli relations in the early 2010s has prompted Israel to place greater emphasis on a secular and friendly Azerbaijan. While Azerbaijan has acquired sophisticated weaponry from Israel, taking advantage of an important partner on the international scene, Israel has purchased vast amounts of Azerbaijani oil. The growth of Israeli-Azerbaijani cooperation has been a matter of much concern in Tehran. On various occasions, Tehran has made explicit warnings to Baku to discontinue cooperation. Speculations abounds of increased activities – and mutual rivalry – between the Iranian and Israeli secret services on Azerbaijani territory.


In the final analysis, the Azerbaijani question in Iran epitomizes the growing intersection between the affairs of the South Caucasus and those of the Middle East. Those seeking to weaken the Islamic Republic are likely to continue to monitor the matter with interest; and domestic factors will ensure that it does not go away.

Read 11753 times Last modified on Wednesday, 06 September 2017 18:53





  • ASIA Spotlight with Prof. S. Frederick Starr on Unveiling Central Asia's Hidden Legacy
    Thursday, 28 December 2023 00:00

    On December 19th, 2023, at 7:30 PM IST, ASIA Spotlight Session has invited the renowned Prof. S Fredrick Starr, who elaborated on his acclaimed book, "The Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia's Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane." Moderated by Prof. Amogh Rai, Research Director at ASIA, the discussion unveiled the fascinating, yet lesser-known narrative of Central Asia's medieval enlightenment.

    The book sheds light on the remarkable minds from the Persianate and Turkic peoples, spanning from Kazakhstan to Xinjiang, China. "Lost Enlightenment" narrates how, between 800 and 1200, Central Asia pioneered global trade, economic development, urban sophistication, artistic refinement, and, most importantly, knowledge advancement across various fields. Explore the captivating journey that built a bridge to the modern world.

    To know watch the full conversation: #centralasia #goldenage #arabconquest #tamerlane #medievalenlightment #turkish #economicdevelopment #globaltrade

    Click here to watch on YouTube or scroll down to watch the full panel discussion.

  • Some Lessons for Putin from Ancient Rome
    Thursday, 04 January 2024 17:01
    By S. Frederick Starr 
    American Purpose
    January 4, 2024
    Vladimir Putin, having sidelined or destroyed all his domestic opponents, real or imagined, now surrounds himself with Romano-Byzantine pomp and grandeur. The theatrical civic festivals, processions of venerable prelates, cult of statues, embarrassing shows of piety, endless laying of wreaths, and choreographed entrances down halls lined with soldiers standing at attention—all trace directly back to czarism, to Byzantine Constantinople, and ultimately to imperial Rome. Indeed, Putin considers himself as Russia’s new “czar,” the Russified form of the Latin “Caesar.”
    But besides all the parallel heroics, Roman history offers profound lessons for today’s world. All of America’s Founders saw the Roman Republic as the best model for their own constitution. Napoleon, Mussolini, and Hitler, by contrast, found in imperial Rome a stunning model for their own grandeur. True, some of Rome’s ancient chroniclers, including the celebrated Livy, so admired specific politicians that they saw only their good sides and ignored the problems and failures. Yet there were others, notably the pessimistic Sallust, who not only wrote bluntly of history’s painful issues but delved deep into their causes and consequences.
    Is Putin likely to delve into the history of Rome for insights on his own situation? Unfortunately for Russia, Putin is not a reader, preferring instead to engage in exhibitionist athletic activities, preside at solemn ceremonies, or offer avuncular obiter dicta. However, if he would study the Roman past, he might come to realize that that model presents more than a few chilling prospects that he will ignore at his peril.
    To take but one example, a glance at Roman history would remind Putin that self-declared victories may not be as victorious as he and Kremlin publicists want to think. Back in the 3rd century B.C., when Rome was still a small state in central Italy, it was attacked by a certain King Pyrrhus, a rival ruler from Epirus, a region along today’s border between Greece and Albania. In his first battles Pyrrhus routed the Roman legions, and celebrated accordingly. But matters did not end there.
    Like Pyrrhus, Putin’s army scored some early victories in its war on Ukraine. As recently as December 1, Putin’s Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu was still claiming, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, that Russian forces “were advancing on all fronts.” Pyrrhus made similar false claims, only to discover that his own soldiers were no match for the determined Romans. As the Romans drove Pyrrhus’ army from the field, he groused, “If we win one more such victory against the Romans we will be utterly ruined,” which is exactly what happened. Pyrrhus’ statement gave Romans the term “Pyrrhic victory,” which we still use today. Putin should apply it to his “victories” at Bakhmut and Avdiivka.
    Another crisis in Rome’s early formation as a nation occurred when a peasant uprising threatened Rome itself and, according to the historian Livy, caused panic in the Roman capital. In desperation, the elders turned to Lucius Cincinnatus, who was neither a military man nor a professional politician, but who had earned respect as an effective leader. It took Cincinnatus only fifteen days to turn the tide, after which he returned to his farm. George Washington rightly admired Cincinnatus and consciously emulated him, returning after the Battle of Yorktown to Mount Vernon. By contrast, Putin’s “special military operation,” planned as a three-day romp, is now approaching the end of its second year. Putin, no Cincinnatus, doomed himself to being a lifer.
    Roman history is a millennium-long showcase of motivation or its absence. In this context, Putin might gain further insights by examining Rome’s centuries-long battle against the diverse tribes pressing the empire from the north. For centuries Rome’s legionnaires were well trained, disciplined, and committed. The list of their early victories is long. Both Julius Caesar and the philosopher-emperor-general Marcus Aurelius succeeded because they motivated and inspired their troops. But over time the Roman army was increasingly comprised of hirelings, déclassé men who fought not to save the empire but for money or a small piece of the bounty. Inflation and rising costs outpaced pay increases. Punishment was severe, in some cases including even crucifixion. In the end, Rome’s army eroded from within.
    This is what is happening to the Russian army today. Putin attacked Ukraine in February 2022 with what was then an army of several hundred thousand trained professional soldiers. But after the Ukrainians killed more than 320,000 Russian troops, their replacements were unwilling and surly conscripts and even criminals dragooned from Russia’s jails. Putin quite understandably fears such soldiers. Putin’s army, like that of the late Roman Empire, is collapsing from within.
    By contrast, Ukraine’s army at the time of the invasion was small and comprised mainly Soviet-trained holdovers. Both officers and troops of the line had to be quickly recruited from civilian professions and trained. Yet they quickly proved themselves to be disciplined and resourceful patriots, not tired time-servers. True, Ukraine is now conscripting troops, but these newcomers share their predecessors’ commitment to the nation and to their future lives in a free country.
    Sheer spite and a passion for avenging past failures figured prominently in Putin’s decisions to invade both Georgia and Ukraine. Roman history suggests that this isn’t smart. Back in 220 B.C., Rome defeated its great enemy, the North African state of Carthage. Anticipating Putin, the Carthaginian general Hannibal sought revenge. Acting out of spite, he assembled 700,000 foot soldiers, 78,000 mounted calvary, and a force of war elephants, and crossed the Alps. Though he was a brilliant general, Hannibal’s war of spite turned into a disaster.
    Why did Hannibal lose? Partly because of his sheer hubris and the spite that fed it, and also because the Romans avoided frontal battles and simply ground him down. They were prudently led by a general named Fabius Maximus, whom later Romans fondly remembered as “the Delayer.” Today it is the Ukrainians who are the Delayers. By grinding down Putin’s army and destroying its logistics they have positioned themselves for victory.
    The Roman Republic fell not because of any mass uprising but because of the machinations of Julius Caesar. A victorious general, Caesar looked the hero as he was installed as imperator. As was customary at such ceremonies, an official retainer placed behind the inductee solemnly repeated over and over the admonition to “Look behind you!” Caesar failed to do so and underestimated the opposition of a handful of officials and generals who feared the rise of a dictator perpetuus. Even if Putin chooses not to read Cicero, Plutarch, or Cassius Dio, he could productively spend an evening watching a Moscow production of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar.
    Turning to a very different issue, Putin seems blithely to assume that whenever Russia defeats a neighboring country it can easily win the hearts and minds of the conquered, whether by persuasion or force. This is what many Roman generals and governors thought as well, but they were wrong—fatally so. Speaking of the impact of corrupt officials sent by Rome to the provinces, the great orator-politician Cicero declared to the Roman Senate, “You cannot imagine how deeply they hate us.” Does Putin understand this?
    Finally, it is no secret that Russia today, like ancient Rome, is increasingly a land of immigrants; its economy depends on impoverished newcomers from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and elsewhere in Central Asia who fled to Russia in search of work. Yet Moscow treats them as third-class citizens and dragoons them as cannon fodder or “meat” to die by the thousands on the Ukrainian front. Rome faced a similar problem and wrestled with it unsuccessfully over several centuries. Over time the despised immigrants who poured across the Alps from Gaul demanded a voice in Roman affairs, and eventually took control of the western Roman Empire.
    Sad to say, neither Putin himself nor any others of Russia’s core group of leaders show the slightest interest in learning from relevant examples from Roman history or, for that matter, from any other useable past. Together they provide living proof of American philosopher George Santayana’s adage that, “Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.” In Putin’s case, though, he seems never to have known it. 

    ABOUT THE AUTHORSS. Frederick Starr, is a distinguished fellow specializing in Central Asia and the Caucasus at the American Foreign Policy Council and founding chairman of the Central Asia Caucasus Institute.

    Additional Info
    • Author S. Frederick Starr
    • Publication Type Analysis
    • Published in/by American Purpose
    • Publishing date January 4, 2024
  • CACI Chairman S. Frederick Starr comments on "Preparing Now for a Post-Putin Russia"
    Friday, 03 November 2023 18:30

    Whether Russian President Vladimir Putin dies in office, is ousted in a palace coup, or relinquishes power for some unforeseen reason, the United States and its allies would face a radically different Russia with the Kremlin under new management. The geopolitical stakes mean that policymakers would be negligent not to plan for the consequences of a post-Putin Russia. On November 2, 2023, CACI Chairman S. Frederick Starr joined a panel organized by the Hudson Institute’s Center on Europe and Eurasia for a discussion on how US and allied policymakers can prepare for a Russia after Putin.

    Click here to watch on YouTube or scroll down to watch the full panel discussion.

  • Central Asia Diplomats Call for Closer Ties With US
    Monday, 26 June 2023 00:00

    REPRINTED with permission from Voice of America News
    By Navbahor Imamova

    WASHINGTON -- U.S.-based diplomats from Central Asia, a region long dominated by Russia and more recently China, say they are eager for more engagement with the United States.

    Many American foreign policy experts agree that a more robust relationship would be mutually beneficial, though U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations express deep concerns about human rights and authoritarian rule in the five countries: Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

    Michael Delaney, a former U.S. trade official, argued in favor of greater engagement this week at a webinar organized by the American-Uzbekistan Chamber of Commerce.

    He noted that three of the five republics are World Trade Organization members and the other two are in the accession process — a goal actively encouraged by the U.S. government.

    "I've always believed that this is a geographically disadvantaged area. There are relatively small national economies," he said. But, he said, collectively the region represents a potentially more connected market, about 80 million people.

    Key issues

    In this virtual gathering, all five Central Asian ambassadors to Washington expressed eagerness to work on issues the U.S. has long pushed for, such as water and energy sustainability, security cooperation, environmental protection and climate, and connectivity.

    Kazakhstan's Ambassador Yerzhan Ashikbayev said that despite all factors, the United States does not want to leave the field to China, its global competitor, which actively invests in the region.

    "Recent visit by 20 companies to Kazakhstan as a part of certified U.S. trade mission, including technology giants like Apple, Microsoft, Google, but also other partners like Boeing, have shown a growing interest," Ashikbayev said.

    The Kazakh diplomat described a "synergy" of economies and diplomatic efforts. All Central Asian states are committed to dialogue, trade and multilateralism, he said. "As we are witnessing the return of the divisive bloc mentalities almost unseen for 30 years, it's in our best interest to prevent Central Asia from turning into another battleground of global powers."

    During his first tour of Central Asia earlier this year, Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, meeting separately with the foreign ministers of all five countries.

    That was deeply appreciated, said Meret Orazov, Turkmenistan's longtime ambassador, who also praised the regular bilateral consultations the U.S. holds with these countries.

    Uzbek Ambassador Furqat Sidiqov sees the U.S. as an important partner, with "long-standing friendship and cooperation which have only grown stronger over the years."

    "The U.S. has played a significant role in promoting dialogue and cooperation among the Central Asian nations through initiatives such as the C5+1," he said, referring to a diplomatic platform comprising Washington and the region's five governments.

    "This is where we address common concerns and enhance integration," said Sidiqov. "We encourage the U.S. to bolster this mechanism."

    Tashkent regards Afghanistan as key to Central Asia's development, potentially linking the landlocked region to the markets and seaports of South Asia. Sidiqov said his country counts on American assistance.

    'Possibility of positive change'

    Fred Starr, chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute in Washington, ardently advocates for the U.S. to adopt closer political, economic and people-to-people ties with the region.

    In a recent paper, he wrote that among dozens of officials, diplomats, entrepreneurs, experts, journalists and civil society leaders interviewed in Central Asia, "even those most critical of American positions saw the possibility of positive change and … all acknowledged that the need for change is on both sides, theirs as well as ours."

    This is the only region that doesn't have its own organization, said Starr, arguing that the U.S. could support this effort. "We have not done so, probably because we think that this is somehow going to interfere with their relations with their other big neighbors, the north and east, but it's not going to. It's not against anyone."

    "Easy to do, low cost, very big outcome," he added, also underscoring that "there is a feeling the U.S. should be much more attentive to security."

    "Japan, the European Union, Russia, China, their top leaders have visited. … No U.S. president has ever set foot in Central Asia," he said. He added that regional officials are left to wonder, "Are we so insignificant that they can't take the time to visit?"

    Starr urges U.S. President Joe Biden to convene the C5+1 in New York during the 78th session of the U.N. General Assembly in September. "This would not be a big drain on the president's time, but it would be symbolically extremely important," he said. "All of them want this to happen."

    Read at VOA News

  • Read CACI Chairman S. Frederick Starr's recent interview on the resurgence of Imperial Russia with The American Purpose
    Tuesday, 23 May 2023 00:00

    Why Russians Support the War: Jeffrey Gedmin interviews S. Frederick Starr on the resurgence of Imperial Russia.

    The American Purpose, May 23, 2023

    Jeffrey Gedmin: Do we have a Putin problem or a Russia problem today?

    S. Frederick Starr: We have a Putin problem because we have a Russia problem. Bluntly, the mass of Russians are passive and easily manipulated—down to the moment they aren’t. Two decades ago they made a deal with Vladimir Putin, as they have done with many of his predecessors: You give us a basic income, prospects for a better future, and a country we can take pride in, and we will give you a free hand. This is the same formula for autocracy that prevailed in Soviet times, and, before that, under the czars. The difference is that this time Russia’s leader—Putin—and his entourage have adopted a bizarre and dangerous ideology, “Eurasianism,” that empowers them to expand Russian power at will over the entire former territory of the USSR and even beyond. It is a grand and awful vision that puffs up ruler and ruled alike.

    What do most Russians think of this deal? It leaves them bereft of the normal rights of citizenship but free from its day-to-day responsibilities. So instead of debating, voting, and demonstrating, Russians store up their frustrations and then release them in elemental, often destructive, and usually futile acts of rebellion. This “Russia problem” leaves the prospect of change in Russia today in the hands of alienated members of Putin’s immediate entourage, many of whom share his vision of Russia’s destiny and are anyway subject to Putin’s ample levers for control. Thus, our “Putin problem” arises from our “Russia problem.”

    Click to continue reading...